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Online security top concern in Asia Pacific: Internet Society survey

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NEW DELHI: Online security is an area that warrants most urgent attention from policymakers, according to a recent Internet Society (IS) survey on Policy Issues in Asia Pacific.

“As trust online has become a key issue for Internet users throughout Asia Pacific, it’s clear that people feel that current policies are not doing enough to protect their privacy and security online,” IS said in a statement from Singapore.

The survey polled almost 2,000 end-users from across the region on their attitudes towards current Internet policy issues. Access is still the primary concern for stakeholders, but Internet security has become top of mind, replacing cloud computing as the second-most followed topic by respondents, as tracked by the annual study.

Moreover, 58 per cent of respondents in the 2016 survey thought cybercrime needed to be addressed by governments, followed by connectivity (47 per cent), data protection (45 per cent) and privacy (44 per cent).

As connectivity has improved over the past year --70 per cent stated that they had experienced better Internet speed and 55 per cent saw a drop in the cost of their Internet subscription -- users are turning their focus to online trust.

“The results of this year’s survey show that stakeholders in the region hold connectivity and security as paramount and feel these need urgent attention from governments,” Internet Society’s Regional Bureau Director for Asia-Pacific Rajnesh Singh was quoted in the official statement as saying.

“As trust online has become a key issue for Internet users throughout Asia Pacific, it’s clear that people feel that current policies are not doing enough to protect their privacy and security online,” adds Singh.

The elements of trust online are multi-faceted and are reflected in the survey’s findings. A large proportion of respondents cited data protection (77 per cent) as crucial for building confidence in the Internet. More than half also felt that consumer protection (54 per cent), transparency (51 per cent) and the ability to communicate confidentially (51 per cent) were more important than content, service, technology and applications (45 per cent).

While many believed that policies regarding online security in their country were largely compatible with their human and civil rights, this view did not extend to privacy online. The survey reveals that 59 per cent of participants did not believe their privacy was protected online.

Internet users were also doubtful about the impact of online security policies on their online activities. Over half indicated these policies have not increased their confidence in being able to use the Internet securely and only 34 per cent agreed that the current online security policies appropriately address the real threats and risks encountered online.

The Internet Society is an independent source for global Internet information and thought leadership. It is also the organizational home for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and has members and chapters around the world. For the 2016 survey, maximum respondents were from South Asia (67 per cent), followed by South-East Asia (17 per cent), East Asia and Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific Islands.

To a lesser degree, Internet users were also following developments around cloud computing (46 per cent), e-commerce (44 per cent), big data (44 per cent), consumer protection (43 per cent), the Internet of Things (43 per cent), freedom of expression (40 per cent), online child protection (38 per cent), content filtering (37 per cent), censorship (36 per cent), and net neutrality (34 per cent).

Internet access was of greater importance to specific sectors and sub-regions, particularly rural dwellers (69 per cent) and those living in the Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand (77 per cent).

Respondents also opine that governments should have more people’s involvement in policy-making related to Internet. About 77 per cent of respondents say that they have not had an opportunity to participate in public consultations for government policy-making for the Internet in the past year. This figure was higher for those between 15 to 24 years old (85 per cent) and those in the private sector (84 per cent).

Conversely, the proportion of those who have had the opportunity to participate was higher for those who identified with civil society (34 per cent) and those who live in Southeast Asia (33 per cent). The minority (23 per cent) who have had a chance to contribute to policymaking learned of these opportunities mainly through email (63 per cent). Other means included personal invitations (46 per cent), social media posts (40 per cent), government websites (26 per cent), media or press coverage (24 per cent), word of mouth (19 per cent), government press releases and advertisements (15 per cent).

According to the IS survey, respondents accessed the Internet through various means: more than a quarter went online mainly through wireless or cellular (41 per cent) or through DSL (26 per cent) networks. The rest were using optical fibre (19 per cent), cable (12 per cent) or dial-up (2 per cent).

Those who spend more than one-third of their income on Internet connectivity used cellular (28 per cent) more than any other means. By contrast only 6 per cent of senior citizen respondents used cellular connectivity. Women mainly used wireless Internet (43 per cent).

Some 73 per cent of respondents also use the Internet for business purposes, the bulk (68 per cent) of which are between 25 to 44 years old. Business use was drastically lower among those who spend more than one-third of their income on Internet connectivity (51 per cent) and among rural dwellers (54 per cent).

Those who spend more than one third of their income on Internet connectivity had mobile data as the primary mode of access available to them daily (74 per cent) with residential connection (67 per cent) and office Internet (49 per cent) trailing behind. A similar pattern is observed among rural residents. Perhaps, not surprisingly, mobile data is also the leading source of everyday access for respondents between 15 to 24 years old (78 per cent). There was a lower overall availability of private establishments with free Wi-Fi in rural areas. Southeast Asia, on the other hand, had a higher than average concentration of free Wi-Fi in cafes (67 per cent), restaurants (57 per cent), and shopping malls (54 per cent).

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